Police and victim say Apple returned stolen iPhone to alleged thief instead of victim

Manufacturers don't track stolen serial numbers

BOCA RATON, Fla. - Technology will be a top gift this holiday, but one of the most popular manufacturers is under fire from customers and police.

It's estimated 30-40 percent of all robberies involve a cell phone. Apps like "Find My iPhone" and the serial number on your phone may not help track down thief. We are exposing a loophole that thieves are exploiting.

Smartphones are easy to grab, easy money, and an easy crime to get away with.

"You almost have to do your own detective work," said Boca Raton mom Robin Rosen.

Criminals are targeting iPhones so often, the crime is called Apple picking.

Rosen's daughter had hers picked right out of her pocket at a nightclub in Orlando while she was visiting friends. The iPhone vanished without a trace for six months.

When Rosen got a call from Apple, she called the Consumer Watchdog, to alert others of the unexpected inside look she got into a criminal's mind.

"They're telling me oh Mrs. Rosen we have your iPhone here. We're trying to recreate the sensor problem that you sent it in for," said Rosen recalling her phone conversation with Apple.

Apple called Rosen because her phone number was still linked to the serial number on the phone.

"Then the bells went off. I was like Oh My God, they must have the stolen iPhone," said Rosen.

Rosen gave Apple her original receipt and police report proving the phone was stolen, but Rosen said the detective working the case could not get the phone back.

"The end result was the phone went back to the criminal," said Rosen.

In an email, an Orange County Sheriff Detective told Apple that decision was quote "unacceptable" and vented about the "run-a-around" the Detective and victim were getting.

It's one of 3 cases the Sheriff's Office is working with Apple. In another case, a subpoena to Apple went unanswered. A police report unlocks the mystery. It said, "Apple's policy states they can only return products they receive for repair to the person who originally mailed it to them."

"I'm not surprised they told the police no," said Casey Paris, Chief Executive Officer of World Wide Cells.

Paris said the second-hand market is hurt by this lucrative crime.

"It's not that they don't want to help. It's because they can't. They have no way to know. They don't track this stuff," said Paris.

Paris said none of the manufacturers track ownership of the phone as it's common for phones to change hands frequently.

"There is no way to prove the person that sent the phone in is not the registered owner," said Paris.

Paris said Apple is an easy target for thieves because they sell the phones and service the warranty, and their warranty is generous.

"Anything that is wrong with it, they'll take it back, and give you a brand new phone with a clean serial number," said Paris.

That brand new phone helps the thieves erase any trace of their crime, and more easily make money.

"It's wrong. Why should this criminal have my cell phone? We paid for it." said Rosen.

Rosen was able to keep the thief from making money on her phone. When Apple sent the phone back to the alleged thief, police retrieved it. Now it's back with its rightful owner.

"This will not stop until something is done," said Rosen.

If you haven't upgraded to iOS 7 yet, here's one reason you might.

There's a new security feature that prevents a thief from using and reselling your phone.

Thieves don't want to be tracked so if they try to turn off the Find my iPhone app, a box would pop up asking for your password to your Apple ID.

If a thief can't answer this question and can't turn off Find my iPhone, Apple says it may not service your phone under warranty. We'll find out soon if this security feature actually stops thieves.

Click here to learn more about the new security features with iOS 7.


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